The sun was shining on Friday as Ghanaian international Kevin-Prince Boateng arrived at the Home of FIFA to meet with President Joseph S. Blatter. Despite the clement weather, the theme of their encounter conjured up a dark cloud threatening the game, with the two men tackling the issue of discrimination and racism.
"Unfortunately, our extremely popular sport – which involves nearly a billion people throughout the world – is affected by several scourges: violence, cheating, doping, match fixing and discrimination," explained the FIFA President in his opening statement. "At FIFA, we try to tackle all of them, but the question of discrimination angers me in particular. It's abhorrent and we have to combat this evil, but it's difficult to find the adequate response."
For Boateng, who was in Geneva on Thursday for the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination – an event organised as part of the 22nd regular session of the United Nations Human Rights Council – the issue has been especially pressing of late. On 3 January this year, he decided to walk off the pitch with his AC Milan team-mates after 26 minutes of a preparation game, incensed by racial chants emanating from the stands.
More power for referees
"When I left the pitch against Pro Patria, I know it wasn't the right decision, but at that moment I was very angry and very emotional," the midfielder explained to FIFA's President. "I spoke to the referee about it very early on, but after 26 minutes I just lost it and walked off the pitch. It shouldn't be the decision of the player, though. I think that referees should perhaps have more power in this area and they should take their courage in their own hands. But it's not easy and I realise that."
The two men then discussed the appropriate sanctions in cases like this. It is a thorny issue, as some might argue it is unfair to punish a team for the actions of their supporters. "I'm a player and so I know that a points deduction might not go down well," said Boateng. "But we need to be very strict in this domain and, if there are rules, we have to apply them. We absolutely need to have a real threat of sanctions."
This taskforce needs strong personalities and people who stand out from the crowd, like yourself, to give it credibility.
For his part, the FIFA President is in favour of pursuing both preventive measures and sanctions. "We need to follow two directions. First of all, we have to educate very young people and, for that, FIFA already has a fantastic network in our member countries, thanks to technical courses, grassroots programmes and so on. We have to repeat the message tirelessly, and we also need any players who are victims of such acts to report them immediately.
"Secondly, we need to punish. I don't think games behind closed doors or financial sanctions are effective. In my opinion, we need to deduct points or even eliminate a team from a competition. It's tough, and not everybody will agree, but it's the only way to seriously intimidate and stop the troublemakers."
With that in mind, President Blatter explained that FIFA has been working on proposals for anti-discrimination measures which will then have to be "implemented and applied by member associations everywhere, and at every level. We're working towards presenting something to the FIFA Congress in May."
The two men were clearly on the same wavelength, and it was only natural for President Blatter to then invite the Milan player to join FIFA's new Anti-Discrimination Taskforce. "The President of the new Anti-Discrimination Taskforce, Jeffrey Webb, is a strong and dynamic man who will take action," commented the FIFA President. "This taskforce needs strong personalities and people who stand out from the crowd, like yourself, to give it credibility." Boateng happily accepted the invitation, adding that "everyone needs to be stricter regarding this issue and this taskforce needs to make sure of that".